UAV Imagery is More than a Pretty Picture

I hear about it time and again. Someone wins a quad copter or purchased one after being convinced at a farm show, to get it home and use it for pretty pictures of their field once or twice. Don’t get me wrong, there are advantages to finally having an aerial view of your crop in-season. But, true agricultural aerial imagery is so much more than a pretty picture.

We specialize in three types of imagery at Hewitt Precision Insights – NDVI, RGB, and thermal imagery. Each type of imagery serves a specific purpose and fulfills a need depending on what an individual grower is searching for.

NDVI is best suited for in-season imagery of your growing crop. NDVI stands for Normalized Difference Vegetative Index. It’s basically a mathematical formula that measures the reflected light at different wavelengths. The healthier the plants are, the more light they reflect allowing us to differentiate between less healthy and healthier plants. These images are visualized as a color spectrum much like a yield map. Just like a yield map, I use red colors for the less healthy plants, moving up the spectrum towards orange, yellow, green, and finally blue as the healthiest areas in your field. With this information, we can go out and scout the less healthy areas to find the reason they are not performing as well. This can be from bugs, disease, fungus, or terrain. After we find the issue, steps can be taken to improve the health before yield damage occurs. Data shows that NDVI imagery can detect crop threats 10 days before the naked eye. Once an issue is seen in a field, the damage is already done. This imagery allows us to save yield.

RGB is best suited for an introductory to aerial imagery. Seeing your field from a bird’s eye view gives you the ability to see the variation in canopy color across the whole field. Using this imagery, we can go find out why the lighter green, or yellow spots in the canopy are less healthy. This allows us to make a change before any damage gets worse through the growing season. I say this imagery is a good introduction, because after you see it, I think you’ll be excited about the possibility of getting more resolution and contrast in your fields.

Thermal is best suited for bare ground mapping. Thermal imagery is a recording of temperature. This is useful for soil type mapping, planting time decisions, and tile mapping. A big part of the contrast in thermal is the moisture in the field. Each soil type has different drainage properties allowing them to warm up at varying rates. After a rain that soaks a field, the soil on top of a tile will drain faster, allowing it to warm up faster. This allows us to “see” the tile below ground. When you farm a lot of acres, it’s hard to know where the soil is warm enough or if it has a consistent temperature across an entire field. Taking thermal imagery not only provides temperature data for all your fields, allowing you to make a decision on where to start, but can be used to find tile lines.

Each image we produce here at Hewitt Precision Insights comes with agronomic review as well as access to the AkerScout application you can download to your phone, tablet or iPad. This app is free to the public, whether you purchase imagery or not. It is a full featured scouting app allowing us to create points in the field and associate an issue with that point. It also contains categories and pictures to help you identify the exact issue you are seeing so you can make the proper decision. When this app is used with purchased imagery, the images are loaded into the app allowing users to see their crop from the air while scouting from the ground. This is part of our “eyes in the sky and boots on the ground” approach to our services. Targeted scouting means increased efficiency and truly scouting the unhealthy areas of the field that need the most attention.

UAV imagery when put to use coupled with agronomic review and scouting, can truly capture cost savings in terms of yield, nutrient, and chemical application.

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